Why including a ‘love letter’ with a home offer might be a bad idea

Making an offer on a house can feel like a leap of faith these days. Some prospective home buyers purchase a house sight unseen, while others send their offer in and become one on a list of many being considered. The odds of standing out are becoming small. To make an offer more emotionally appealing to a seller, some buyers have begin writing personal “love letters” to sellers that detail why they are the right buyers for the home. However, it might be best to reconsider the move. 

According to Pat Prenderville, a real estate agent with William Pitt Sotheby's Westport brokerage, the tactic of writing a “love letter” to a seller with reasons why they should pick their offer is a "tricky" thing that can pose an ethical dilemma. 

"They were far more frequent last year, but the current trend is for sellers to state that they will not accept or read any personal letters submitted with offers to protect themselves against any possible fair housing violations," she previously told Hearst Connecticut.

The National Board of Realtors warns against the move to write these letters, stating that they “often contain personal information and reveal characteristics of the buyer, such as race, religion, or familial status, which could then be used, knowingly or through unconscious bias, as an unlawful basis for a seller’s decision to accept or reject an offer.” Using “protected characteristics” such as these instead of price or offer terms to inform decisions to accept or reject an offer would violate the Fair Housing Act, according to the National Board of Realtors.

The Fair Housing Act is in place to prevent landlords, banks and real estate agents (among other parties) from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, religion, disability status, familial status or nationality, according to The New York Times. Some states are even taking steps to ban these personal letters because of the unfair advantages or disadvantages they might pose in the buying process. 

The New York Times reports that Oregon made it illegal for a seller’s agent to pass a love letter along to a client starting in January 2022. The law was later blocked by a federal judge for potential violations of First Amendment rights to free speech. Closer to Connecticut, a state legislator in Rhode Island introduced a bill to bar sellers’ agents from receiving love letters when receiving offers for a home, according to The Boston Globe. Further north in Massachusetts, the Globe reports that agents are implementing policies to discourage love letters in an attempt to keep the buying and selling process a “purely business transaction.”

While there is no legislation on the topic on the docket in Connecticut, Pew Charitable Trusts notes that many states discourage the practice. According to Tammy Felenstein, president of the Connecticut Association of Realtors, the Association joins the National Board of Realtors in discouraging the use of these letters. Instead, the home buying and selling process should be only transactional, according to Felenstein. As a buyer, sharing personal details in a letter might give the seller more power than they already have in the selection and negotiation process. 

“One of the downsides of why this isn't a good idea for the buyer is that they often reveal too much, and it can weaken their ability to negotiate later in the process,” Felenstein said in an email. “For example, if the buyers revealed in a 'love letter' that their best friends live next door, but are trying to negotiate inspection issues, the seller will know they have more leverage.”

While buyers “believe that pulling at the sellers’ heartstrings will give them an advantage,” Felenstein said that sellers “will (and should) take the offer that presents the best price and terms.”

“Once you start basing your decision on who the buyer is, you are potentially violating Fair Housing,” Felenstein said.  

Sellers can specify that they will not accept love letters with offers on their homes, but if they do not explicitly make the request, Prenderville said that if a buyer chooses to include one, they should make the letter brief and well-written. It should also provide specific details on why the property is right for them. For example, Prenderville said noting how a buyer as “been searching for a charming antique with gardens and a barn for over a year” would be appropriate to include, while a family photo would not be reasonable to include.

There are other ways to make a strong offer other than including a love letter with a bid, Prenderville and Felenstein said. For Prenderville, a strong offer can include a closing timeline that suits the sellers’ needs, or adding an escalation clause to their offer to potentially top a higher offer the seller receives. According to Felenstein, brokerages like William Raveis that she works for, offer cash bid programs and purchase programs that can help give buyers an edge with cash offers or help sellers unload their properties.